5 Things I Know To Be True About Love

Keynote Speech at SFSU's Counseling MS Program

Kim Davalos

Love is annoying

It’s stressful and anxiety-provoking
Love keeps you up until 2am

Demanding you work hard at it
Invest in it
Knowing it will also call on you early in the morning

When you’re exhausted

You will want to ignore the call
But somehow you get yourself to answer anyways

Love comes when you least expect it

Or is the friend that was always there
You just had never been quite ready
Timing was always off
Until one day you meet it at the crosswalk
Or it came full speed and knocked you off your feet
And out of complacency and into feeling free

Love will challenge you
Love will tell you about yourself
Trigger the wounds you let scab over
Tell you this bleeding has made you who they need in healing today
Will cover you with ointment and ask you to tell the story
Of how you got these scars
How you’ve fought through battles and wars

Love never expects of you
You will often question, Why me?
You will often say, I don’t deserve to be here.
You will often wonder, Can I give enough to this?
Will I be enough for this?
The answer is always yes.
The answer is always yes, if you give your best.
And every authentic piece of the pie
You’ve got to thrive in this love
Keep the legacy of good work and commitment alive.

Love becomes what you least expect of it
Changes you in the ways you never knew possible
Empowers you to become the counselors you are today

This is your wedding day

This is your purpose and your calling
This is your commitment to the social change and healing
The community in this building and beyond
Your counseling practice is your love song
Is where you knew you were to partner into all along

So let us celebrate in ceremony, matrimony, and commencement

If I know anything to be true about love
This is it.
It is that this day is only your first dance
And how beautiful you two will begin to move together.

Distinguished faculty of San Francisco State University’s Masters in Counseling program, Counseling Student Association and most importantly, graduating class of 2016 – It is my profound blessing and honor to be sharing my truth and celebrating yours today through commencement, and love.

In 2010, I received an acceptance letter from my top choice for graduate school in this same exact program. Two years later, in 2012, I was sitting in your exact seat (your seat in particular), proud, transformed, and ready to change the world, or at least one student’s perspective and approach to the world day by day. This program allowed me to create a community of counselors who would also become lifelong friends and family, and to find mentors that would become my support system, wisdom source, advocates, and heroes. This program was and will always feel like home. I like to say, “Time is merely a construct”, and for me, four years have passed in the blink of an eye, and yet, life after graduate school showed me that even with this strong community, we are always a student and that your journey in counseling and learning about this professional field and practice has only just begun.

I have been a college counselor at SF State’s Undergraduate Advising Center and currently am one of the counseling faculty for Skyline College’s Center for Innovative Practices through Hip Hop Education & Research, or what hip hop heads know as a CIPHER.  We are a team of educators who are as intentional in our pedagogy and our counseling philosophies using relevant music and hip hop cultural values, as we are in the way we model and engage in love as our uniting practice. As you sit in your fabulous cap and gowns, soon to walk across this stage and receive your well-deserved hoods and degrees, I invite you to ask yourself, how do I love?

And after this commencement, I invite you again to ask yourself around this time every year, how am I informing and grounding my counseling philosophy in love differently today? Which as we all know is also how we build the foundation for our own lives. My own journey through counseling, through the now hundreds of stories I have heard from students, and the various ways I have practiced counseling skills of open-ended questions… unconditional positive affirmations… observing non-verbals… the ever so fun transference and counter-transference… the balancing act of dual relationships – cliché as it may be, have all led me to this one word.

L – O – V – E

American author, poet, professor, and fellow badass woman of color, bell hooks wrote in her national bestseller ‘All About Love’, “The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet – we would all love better if we used it as a verb.”

So I ask again,

How do you love?

Furthermore, bell hooks goes on to write, “The love we make in community stays with us wherever we go. With this knowledge as our guide, we make any place we go a place we return to love.”

In social justice work as counselors, we advocate on multiple levels for our communities, with our clients and students, and ultimately, ourselves. I am certain throughout my years now as a counselor, educator, and artist that all three of these levels interconnect and impact one another.

Within our communities, news reports, tweet updates, and politics we are still in places of crises, trauma, lack of safety, understanding, and as our current President Barack Obama would say, in need for the audacity to hope. As bell hooks would say, “Without hope, we cannot return to love.” A communal practice in counseling requires the ability to remain curious by asking questions and learning how we can best serve our clients and students through listening. Our work as counselors has complex layers and multiple roles that go beyond our offices and campuses. Aside from my role as a college counselor, I actively remain involved in my communities using spoken word as a medium to conduct workshops and create spaces for storytelling and learning who am I serving. Our impact as counselors involves the ability to lean on one another, our community resources, and collective wisdoms to maintain, heal, and thrive. Graduates, please take a look at the people sitting next to you. Take care of one another and build together.

Now, I know. The idea of “loving” your client and/or student sounds like it goes completely against COUN 857: Law & Ethics course. I assure you, I am not trying to get you (or me) fired before you even graduate! Parallel to the practice of love is our unconditional understanding of others within it. Through your cultural competency lenses, your openness to understanding who the individuals you serve are within the room, and honing in on your powers to allow your clients and/or students to speak their truths and release their pain, you are more powerful than all of the Avengers combined. To be aware, open, and unconditional in understanding means to value the intersectionalities of our clients’ identities and lives. Through love, it is our responsibility as counselors to lead without expectation, to meet our clients and/or students where they are at – and practice with gratitude for knowing they, and we, are doing our best within our work.

Last but not least


Audre Lorde quoted, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

And here is where I share some of my own story and truth —

Within my first year of the graduate program, I had been nearly a decade into a long-time battle of depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Through the power of love and community from the program, my family, and myself, I thankfully came to a place of utmost desperation to feel peace and happiness, due to the fact that I realized, hurt people can hurt people. I realized, I cannot be an effective and impactful counselor if I do not do the work necessary to heal, and continually understand who I am. This relationship with myself and the absence of love had to end and I walked away without a goodbye. Today, I stand before you 5 years recovered and counting.

However, the work did not stop there. Once graduating in 2012, I felt the intense pressure to excel further, survive, and create revolutionary change. I had been offered a full-time job out of graduation and kept piling my plate with extra community projects, artistic endeavors, and side jobs. I filled my plate up to the point I could not hold it up any longer and dropped it, and broke, multiple times. Yet again, I was back to a point of desperation, looking for how I got to this new point of what I learned in time was “burnout”. Was losing focus on the reason I fell in love with counseling in the first place.

This was heartbreak at its best.

We cannot love, as verb, as action, without beginning with self. Love also means having the ability to be honest about our flaws and honoring these places of challenge and growth. Within conflict and vulnerability we can become whole and move forward to do the work as counselors we aspire to create and achieve.

Say “NO” more often, it’s okay. Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something much more important, including your own well-being.

Learn your boundaries and know when it is time to rest and refill. Self-care has actually been a synonym for self-love this whole time.

In choosing you, you choose us, and you choose your clients and students.

To stand on this stage as the trouble maker and radical feelist that I am, I wondered that question of “Why me?”. To then respond with “Why not.” I am only but a reflection of this community of counselors and educators, mentors and friends.

Graduates, you too, are merely but one another’s reflections, and in all honesty, none of us can do this alone.

In asking myself, how do I love today?

Look around. At your classmates now colleagues, your faculty now mentors, your family, friends, ancestors and loved ones who may not physically be with us.

I, along with this whole room, do so today, by loving and honoring you.

For your current and future contributions to the progression, voice, and unwavering power of our professional field and practice, thank you.

For the clients and students lives you have already inspired, moved, impacted, and healed, and will continue to do so, thank you.

For choosing, loving, honoring, and saying yes to you, today and always, thank you.

Congratulations, graduation class of 2016.

Bless. Be well. And love. Always, always love.

— kd

Kim Davalos is a college counselor at both San Francisco State University and Skyline College. When applying for graduate school, Kim had to decide between an MFA in Creative Writing or an MS in Counseling. Although she chose counseling, Kim's work in education still centers around her writing process and constant journey in understanding herself as a spoken word artist and poet. Kim has been grand slam champion for SF State's national slam poetry team, starred in the Vagina Monologues, and is now the co-director of SF State's production on men against violence called CockTales, and she facilitates community workshops throughout the year around storytelling and narrative therapy. As a third generation Fil-Am, Kim's current reclamation of her Filipino identity has been heavy in her writing. Kim believes everyone is a writer, a creator - everyone has a unique story to tell.